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This Night Can Last Forever*

Billy Joel ShowFor those of you who were hoping for one of my usual crime fiction posts today, my apologies. There’s going to be a minor variation in my posting plans. In all honesty, I have something else going on in my life today. I’ve been waiting for this night for the longest time, and I do need to get ready for it.

Perhaps I go to extremes, but don’t we all sometimes? Besides, being a writer with a ‘day job’ means I’m under a lot of pressure. So every once in a while, it’s nice to take some time off, so to speak. I know that tomorrow I’ve got to begin again, but just for tonight, I’m ‘off the clock.’

Don’t worry, though. I’m keeping the faith. Here are a few 50-word murder stories (crime writer and fellow blogger Rob Kitchin has called them Dribbles), to keep you company through the long night.

 

I

‘I’d like that big box in my car, please,’ Susan told the movers.
‘This is heavy,’ Ted gasped as he and Joe hefted it. ‘You sure you can manage alone?’
‘Very sure,’ Susan said. She thought about the nearby river. And Kevin’s insurance money. Yup – an absolutely perfect dump site.

 

II

The car inched towards the drive-through window.
‘This’ll take forever,’ Cam warned.
‘Just shut up and get the coffee,’ Ben snapped.
Cam leaned out, picked up the coffees, and handed one to Ben.
‘Did you remember the sugar?’
‘Yeah.’ It wasn’t sugar.  But it was Cam’s ticket to ten grand.

 

III

‘You’re doing great, gorgeous! One more shot,’
This wasn’t what Jenna had imagined. She tried to smile and forget what she was actually doing.
‘You’re a natural, honey,’ Steve said, leering at her.
The door opened.
‘Dad!’
Drew grabbed Steve, making him drop the camera. ‘She’s fifteen years old, pervert!’

 

IV

‘Shame they’re tearing down that house,’ Naomi said.
‘That guy was trouble, anyway,’ Jason answered. ‘And stop staring out the window. It’s creepy.’
‘Wonder why they’re stopping all of a sudden.’
‘Probably break time.’
‘I don’t think so, Jason. They’re pointing to something.’
Jason blanched. He’d forgotten to use lye.

 

V

Kylie’d invited Aileen for late-night tagging. Aileen agreed; anything to stop the bullying.
But on the building’s roof, Kylie pointed a can of spray paint at Aileen instead, and started her ‘phone’s camera. ‘Smile,’ she sneered.
One push, and the bullying ended. Aileen smiled grimly as she climbed back down.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s This Night.

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The Writing Life – A New Game ;-)

WritingLifeIf you were expecting a crime-fictional post today, my apologies. Please feel free to head on to the next stop on your blog rounds.
Still here? Thanks. Ever wonder what it’s like to be a writer? Perhaps you don’t want to take the risks involved, but you think it’d be fun to imagine what it’s like. What if you already are a writer? Do you ever need a break from the stress?

Well, I’ve got the perfect solution! Now, if you’ll just ask your disbelief to go out and get some exercise for a bit, let me show you what I’ve created!

 

The Writing Life

 

Yes, it’s The Writing Life! It’s all new, and it’s a game the whole family will love. It’s easy to play, too. All you need is 2 to 6 players, 1 dice (conveniently provided in an attractively-packaged box), and some game pieces (also provided).

Follow the ups and downs and joys of what it’s like to go from that manuscript to the publishing in this fun, fun game. Just check out the game board! Doesn’t it look fabulous (You can click on the image to enlarge it)?

 

 

WritingGame

 
 

Now, here are the simple rules:

 

  1. Player 1 rolls the dice, and moves his or her game piece the number of spaces indicated by the roll.

  2. If there are instructions on the space where Player 1 has landed, Player 1 follows those instructions. Then Player 1 passes the dice to the player to the left, Player 2.

  3. Player 2 follows the same procedure, and then passes the dice to the player to the left, Player 3, and so on, until each player has had a turn.

  4. When each player has had a turn, Player 1 takes another turn. Then Player 2 takes another turn, and so on, until all players have had another turn.

  5. The game continues in this fashion until there is a winner.

  6. The first player to land on the ‘Publishing Contract!’ space is the winner.

 

See? Couldn’t be easier, could it? A whole lot easier than actually writing a book and getting it published!

 

What do you think? Does it work for you?  I’d love to hear your ideas for inclusions in new editions!

Now, feel free to go and meet up with your disbelief…

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Crime Fiction News Break


 

Links You’ll Want

Clan Destine Press

And Then… The Great Big Book of Adventure Tales 

Brian Stoddart

A Straits Settlement 

Marshall Karp

Terminal 

Dean Street Press

Petrona Award

Arthur Ellis Awards

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Soon as I Get Home*

FamilyLifeOne of the major changes we seem to have seen in crime fiction, especially over the last few decades, is the crime novel in which we follow the protagonist’s home life as well as the criminal investigation. In fact, in some cases, the protagonist’s family is caught up in the web of crime.

I decided to take a closer look at this phenomenon and see whether there really are as many novels that detail the home life of protagonists as we think there are. To address this question, I chose 301 books from among those I’ve read. Then, I sorted them into two categories: those that feature home life scenes and sub-plots; and those that do not. This wasn’t as easy as you might think. Does a scene in which the sleuth has a cup of tea at home and then goes off to investigate ‘count’ as a home life scene? What’s more, the data was, as always, limited to books I’ve read. There are many thousands of crime novels I’ve not read. But that said, here’s what I found.

 

Protanoist Home Life

 

As you can see, there’s absolutely no question that the vast majority of novels (80%) in this data set are stories in which we learn more about the protagonist then, perhaps, whether she or he is married.

Why is this? One possibility is that readers all have home lives, too. It could be that authors and publishers have found that readers identify more closely with, and prefer, books in which the protagonist has a family and other home life obligations and interests. Or, it could be that that ‘home life’ dimension offers authors more possibilities for conflict, tension, story arcs and the like. The one thing we can say is that such books sell. Otherwise, I doubt that editors and publishers would go along with the ‘home life’ dimension.

Is this a recent phenomenon, or has it been going on all along, but we just haven’t noticed? I decided to look at my data a bit more closely to see if there might be some sort of answer there. I sorted the books in the data set into four categories, based on date of original publication. Here’s what I found.

 

Home Life Scenes Over Time

 

As you see, we’ve got a really interesting trend here. Of the 37 books published before 1950, 28 of them (76%) have either no information about the sleuth/protagonist’s home life, or very little. For instance, we know that Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple is not married, and we do see some domestic scenes in those novels. But there aren’t really story arcs about her family, and we don’t really see her trying to juggle home life and her sleuthing. That seems to be the case with the majority of novels in this category.

As we move to the period between 1950 and 1980, things start to change. Of the 44 books in this category, 25 (57%) feature home life scenes. There are 19 (43%) that have no such scenes. Basically, it’s a more or less even match. Why the change? It might be the impact of developing interest in psychology. Or it might be growing reader interest in more fully rounded characters. And those aren’t the only possibilities. But we do see more books featuring protagonists’ home lives.

If this data is representative of what’s happening in the larger crime fiction world, there’s been a major shift since 1980. Among the 63 books in this set that were published between 1980 and 2000, 58 (92%) feature sub-plots or at least several scenes that involve the protagonist’s home life. That pattern is also quite obvious in the 157 books in this set that have been published since 2000. In that group, 149 (95%) feature such scenes and sub-plots.

Many readers enjoy stories where they feel they’re getting to know the main character beyond the criminal investigation. For the author, such scenes and sub-plots do offer some flexibility and lots of possibilities for conflict, tension, depth of story and the like. So it probably shouldn’t be surprising that publishers have seen this, have noticed what’s happened to sales of such books, and encourage authors to weave such scenes and sub-plots into their stories.

What do you think of all this? Do you enjoy books with domestic scenes and sub-plots? Do they annoy you? If you’re a writer, do you include such scenes? Why(not)? I’d love to hear from you about this. Please feel free to let your voice be heard in the poll below, too, and we’ll talk about this again in about a week.

 


 
 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Charlie Smalls, Timothy Graphenreed, Zachary Walzer, Harold Wheeler and Luther Vandross.

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A Fool’s Errand

tarot-card-the-foolCrime writer and fellow blogger D.S. Nelson has offered another terrific story prompt – this ‘photo of the tarot card ‘The Fool.’ Thanks so much, D.S., for the inspiration! Here is the story that came from it:

 

A Fool’s Errand

 

‘I’m not selling!’ Marcus said. He glared across the kitchen table at his son, leaning forward for emphasis.
‘I don’t get it,’ Todd said. He ran an impatient hand through his salt-and-pepper hair, looked away, and looked back at his father. ‘I just don’t see what the big deal is, Dad. You know you could make a fortune selling this place.’
‘You mean you could make a fortune! You know you get everything when I go.’
‘That’s not fair. You’re the one who was talking about a condo, and I think it would be a great idea. You know keeping up with this place is hard on you.’
‘That’s my problem. Besides, I got a kid comes over to cut the grass, and Lori comes in to clean once a week. The rest I can do.’
‘So you won’t even think about it?’
‘Not a chance.’

Todd shook his head a little. He’d known this was a fool’s errand from the beginning. Still, at least he’d tried. The thing that bothered him the most was that his father thought he was pushing the matter out of greed. Of course Todd would be glad of money. Who wouldn’t? But he really was concerned, too. The old man was in his late seventies, and beginning to slow down.

Tired of arguing, Todd got up from the table and walked over to the kitchen window. Through it, he could see the flower beds his father had cultivated so carefully over the years. ‘You’re really attached to this place, aren’t you?’ he finally said.
‘You could say that.’
‘All right, look, I have to get to the office. But we will talk about this again, OK? Skye’ll call you later about dinner this weekend.’
Marcus nodded. He liked Skye; she and Todd made a good couple. And he was glad for the change of subject. ‘Sounds good.’

Todd and Skye got there at six that Saturday. After everyone had greeted each other, Marcus said, ‘I’m going to bring up a bottle of cabernet.’ He half-rose from his chair, but Skye put up a hand. ‘I’ll get it. Basement, right? Left side?’
‘That’s right,’ Marcus said. He was a little relieved, truth be told. The basement stairs weren’t as easy as they used to be.

A few minutes later, Skye came back into the living room, a bottle of wine in one hand, and a cigarette lighter in the other. ‘I thought you were a non-smoker,’ she said.
Todd saw the change in his father’s face. ‘Where the hell did you get that?’ Marcus snapped, but he wasn’t convincing. His pale face and tightened jaw gave him away.
‘I was getting the wine, and I saw a big spider. I went to kill it and found this on the floor under one of the wine racks. Almost missed it, actually.’
‘Probably the guy who fixed my hot water heater last month. Here, I’ll throw it away.’ Marcus reached out a hand and Skye gave him the lighter. Todd was no expert, but it looked like it’d been in the basement a lot longer than a month. Marcus put it in his pocket and then gestured towards the wine bottle. ‘OK, let’s see if this is as good as it’s supposed to be.’

The next morning, Todd stopped by his father’s house on the way to work. He hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that there was something very wrong. Skye had tried to reassure him. ‘You know how your dad is,’ she’d said. ‘He’s stubborn and he keeps things to himself. He probably used to smoke and doesn’t want to admit it.’
That must be it. Still, just to be sure, he wanted to talk to his father again.

When Todd arrived, he saw Marcus working on the flower beds. He walked around towards the yard gate. Marcus didn’t hear him coming. He seemed intent on whatever he was doing. Todd opened the gate and walked quietly towards his father. He got close just in time to see Marcus drop something into a hole he’d obviously just dug. It was the lighter!
‘What are you doing?’ he called out.
Marcus started at the sound of his son’s voice. He straightened up as quickly as he could and brushed the dirt from his hands. ‘Just – just some gardening,’ he managed to say.
‘With a lighter? Come on, Dad!’

Todd kept a steady gaze on his father. He watched the fight slowly drain out of Marcus. Suddenly he looked like the old man he was getting to be. ‘You wouldn’t understand,’ he finally mumbled.
‘Try me,’ Todd said. He took Marcus’ arm and the two walked back into the house, where they sat down in the kitchen. Todd poured a glass of water for his father. Marcus took a sip and then began. ‘I never wanted anybody to know. It was years ago, anyway. You were at college. Remember I talked about buying into that electronics company?’
‘I think so.’
‘I decided to go ahead with it. Not too much, just a few thousand. I wanted to see how it’d do before I invested a lot.’ He took another sip of water and went on. ‘But then I found out it was a money-laundering operation. So I wanted out. But Dennis – he was supposed to be my business partner – wouldn’t listen. Said I had to stay in. I tried to get him to change his mind, but that was a fool’s errand. He came over one night. Wanted me to put in more money. That was a fool’s errand, too, and I told him that. He – he didn’t care. Wouldn’t leave. Then he started to threaten me. That’s when – well, when I did what I had to do. I never meant to, honest to God. It just happened.’

Todd sat silently. He thought about the carefully tended flower beds. And the lighter. And his father’s choices. ‘You know, Dad, maybe selling the house can wait.’

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